Pedro da Silva, VAVA’s Creative Director interviewed by Angela Mrositzki for the German optical magazine DOZ
Questions in a pandemic world about challenges and new perspectives.
Talks about TECHNO-CRAFTS new collection.
Deutsche version at the bottom.
1) What do you learn from the corona pandemic?
I learned from this corona that the pandemic should be a wakeup call about the health of our planet. Despite the high risk of animal-borne infectious diseases, we continue to destroy natural habitats. Every year we dump billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, we destroy entire animal and plant species at an alarming rate. We have cut down forests everywhere. We poison the soil and the water, and our plastic garbage covers the oceans. ‘Growth at any cost’ mindset become a recipe for self-destruction.
We must learn that healthy societies depend on the health of the natural environment. Prevention and, as well, a better listening of science is fundamental. Scientists have long warned about infectious diseases, especially since the recent outbreaks of Ebola, SARS and the bird flu. Scientists’ consistently warned about the human impact on the global climate, on soil and water, and on plant. In this era of deliberate misinformation, fake news and political propaganda, we now have an opportunity to rediscover science as a guide towards an informed decision making.
Finally, the private sector has a pivotal role in this new future. In a world where policymakers largely ignore common interests that are shared by all of humanity, the private sector is playing an ever more critical role. Good corporate citizenship practices are much needed to complement government efforts. The practice of corporate sustainability is now playing an important role in coping with the crisis, affirming once again that values and purpose are the enduring features of resilient organizations.
According to me sustainability movement will gain further relevance in the post-pandemic era. The pandemic made clear that human safety and health of the natural environment go hand in hand. This may well reinforce consumer trends towards more sustainable lifestyles.
2) How did you get through these difficult months with your young brand? What did you use the time for?
The last months for us have been obviously challenging, but because we’re relatively small and incredibly agile we’ve taken a stance on what our “new normal” would look like being immediately pro-active to this new scenario.
We understood from the first moment that navigating this uncertainty would not be easy for small or big companies. We would need to be decisive and start putting recovery strategies into motion to emerge with renewed energy. I’m very proud of my team that has been extremely resilient. As Darwinian would say only those who can adapt quickly and smartly will survive. That also means operating more efficiently.
To secure our future, we had to adapt to the new market environment working extremely hard to create new opportunities and strength even more our core.
On the other hand, despite a new company VAVA is distributed in eyewear boutiques over more than 45 countries and this was crucial to mitigate the risk. Our policy has been always to be present in few stores per country but always the best ones, this helps during hard times because those stores normally have a more stable and loyal customer base.
Obviously this unforeseeable humanitarian and financial crisis has rendered some previously planned strategies for 2020 redundant, but luckily 2019 has been our best sales year ever, therefore we were financially in better position to face the global lockdown than previous years.
In the last 5 years I’ve been travelling 70% of the time. It was just too much, and being in lockdown is allowed me to make a lot of productive things. I’m really tried to make the most of my time, staying positive and using the time to do things that have been hard to do whilst travelling. This included working closely with my team to improve internal processes and training. I have also been reading a lot about art and design and listening to music. This is having a great impact on my creativity and my work on the new collections.
3) Will society change? Will this crisis change attitudes towards consumption?
This is a hard question. I want to believe that the fight against Covid-19 will pave the way for a more humane economy.
While coping with the crisis, we have an opportunity to rediscover basic values of humanity and the bonds that connect us. We now have it in our hands to lay the foundation for a safer, healthier and cleaner life on planet earth. We have the technology and the means to come out stronger if we understand that human wellbeing and the health of the planet are two sides of the same coin. Now is the time to retire old dogmas and to give way to a fresh start.
Coronavirus, like climate change, is partly a problem of our economic structure. Although both appear to be “environmental” or “natural” problems, they are socially driven.
What is hopefully clear is that all these scenarios leave some grounds for fear, but also some for hope. Covid-19 is highlighting serious deficiencies in our existing system. An effective response to this is likely to require radical social change. The upside of this is the possibility that we build a more humane system that leaves us more resilient in the face of future pandemics and other impending crises like climate change.
The key task for us all is demanding that emerging social forms come from an ethic that values care, life, and democracy. The central political task in this time of crisis is living and (virtually) organizing around those values.
The consumer mindset was already showing signs of shifting in certain directions, for instance “buy less choose well and make it last” and “Sustainability First,” before the pandemic.
Now, the resulting “quarantine of consumption” could accelerate some of these consumer shifts, such as a growing antipathy toward waste-producing business models and heightened expectations for purpose-driven, sustainable action. Meanwhile some of the shifts we will witness in the fashion / eyewear systems such as season less design, high quality / long lasting and conscious products, things that would have happened further down the road if the pandemic had not helped them gain speed and urgency now.
Once the dust settle on the immediate crisis, a period of recovery will be characterized by a much more conscious and attentive spending.
4) What effects could this have on optics and eyewear?
This crisis has started to bring to light some of the systemic problems in the industry. When many optical stores became mainstream, many eyewear collections are impersonal and overly commercial, leading design opticians are reacquainting the market with the meaning of what independent design should represent. And many others understand now that they need to return to the truly authentic design. They know that there is a lack of “real” brands in the market, even if they exist, and that consumers hardly find eyewear brands with real design values and story.
According to me, during this sensitive time opticians really have to stay focused on what’s most essential for the health of the business, but this “new normal” equation has to address the new demands for iconic designs in which nothing most be arbitrary or left to change. Care in selecting truly independent labels that shows respect towards the consumer.
Another thing we learned from the pandemic is that it makes sense for frames to remain on collection for a while, and to see the collection without this separation of new and old. This has been VAVA approach from the beginning.
Covid-19 has also accelerated demand for sustainable offerings from a vocal group of consumers. Many opticians are looking for brands that can feed that demand. The pandemic pushed that need of consciousness to the forefront, but opticians will need to educate and remind consumers to keep up the momentum.
5) What will consumers look for: style and safety of classic products, ergo retro and vintage? Or still they have the courage to set for new design spheres? Will they wear glasses that points to the future.
I don’t think consumers need retro and vintage. You cannot go back to old formats, you always need to go forward. In that sense, moving forward is looking to the future.
According to me, creativity is the key to unlocking change and as the world adjusts to a new set of challenges, eyewear industries must do the same. From this health crisis a new way of approaching design and selling of eyewear will emerge where storytelling must supersede superficiality.
Brands must hone an authentic voice which reflects the time and inspires people with new ideas and new ways of looking at things. We need freshness and we need a lot of positiveness.
6) Do we really live in the future? Aren’t we very familiar with the present and with the consequences of our handling of the earth’s resources?
Since the turn of the millennium, society has embraced postmodernism more than ever at a global level. We should pay more attention to understanding how the future is already here. The last VAVA campaign ‘WE ARE LIVING IN THE FUTURE’ tries to bring attention to that. On the other hand, our earth has been radically altered through technology and industrialization. The industry has a disastrous impact on the environment. And environmental damage is increasing as industry grows. I believe there are solutions and alternatives to mitigate these problems. The environment and the climate need to be fully protected. This can only be achieved if we open ourselves to a sustainable lifestyle. For VAVA, it is important to become a vocal champion of sustainability in the industry, technology should be an ally and not an enemy. VAVA designs for a conscious future, a world of high-tech solutions that leverages all the possibilities of technology to make zero waste and eco design possible. Our mission is to create the most unique and environmentally friendly products possible to make the world a more sustainable place.
7) In your latest press release on the new “TECHNO-CRAFTS” collection, you speak of your brand as a movement that thinks into the future. Does this vision belong to your own concept of life and therefore goes far beyond the glasses?
Totally, my goal was to create a eyewear label in which I try to express my vision of the world and the future. VAVA designs represent the visual perspective of the brand “soul”. They address the “post-industrial” age that we live. VAVA was born to re-envision the Techno Future.
I wanted to make a label that could associate the highly conceptual language of machinery and the arts. The spirit of VAVA is based on the same principle: VAVA is conceptual and visionary in its essence.
Ultimately, the brand aims to achieve a contemporaneous basic look and at same conceptual and timeless.
I have been for long fascinated and inspired by the Detroit techno scene and the city’s post-industrial landscape. I’m also very fond of the Bauhaus and Minimalism, I was also inspired by these two aesthetic movements. Basic and simple shapes (like squares and rectangles), the most common shapes in the industrial world, stimulate my vision in design. Much of the man-made world is composed of these shapes.
On the other hand I’m very much inspired by science fiction films, like for instance Space Odyssey, that can be read as the “racing stand-still” that is bound to result from an excessively one-sided belief in technological progress.
At VAVA we embrace techno-crafts as a means to open up new perceptions in eyewear that emphasizes this new century. Everybody at VAVA lives by this philosophy, reinforcing their belief in this vision.
In VAVA’s hands, craft is modernized in a minimal way with the aid of cutting-edge and sustainable technology. VAVA seeks to foster a dialogue between crafts and high-tech, using the most advanced technologies. A techno-crafted product that, at same time, embodies the experience, knowledge and art of the great masters of Italian handmade eyewear.
Technology continues to captive us, translating the imaginings of science fiction into reality and reconfiguring the boundaries between function and fantasy. Of an exquisite nature, our eyewear invites you to participate in a forward-thinking movement.
8) In general: How do you imagine the future? How will smaller, independent brands survive in competition with the market power of large manufacturers?
VAVA envisions a future that is ageless, genderless and faceless using terms like equality and diversity. Addressing the demand for fast-paced changes to a centuries-old paradigm requires more than simply discussing matter. It’s imperative to became part of the change as we are already living in the future.
Most of the today’s fashion is about trends. A trend is always a trap, a search for something “safe”. The fast path followed by fashion and economics impose this “safeness”. At the start of each new season, large manufactures scan the horizon for newsworthy “trends” inspired in the past. Thus it is more about being inspired than really being a creator of something.
And an independent design is something else, it is about creating from scratch.
This is why I chose to not follow trends and fashion. I believe in a concept, that evolves. I like consistency and particularly enjoy works that are representative of something bigger. That said however, I believe that creativity and design, as practiced by quite a few Designers, is art. There are Designers out there who keep defying convention in spectacular ways.
I also believe a lot in collaborative work between people, based on a modern social model, within a lighter and simpler structure that promotes participatory work. People that are not just great professionals but as well share the same ideas, what gives a great consistency to projects. Technology has changed radically the way we interact and work.
And my final advice is to be obsessed by quality, consciousness, craftmanship and technology. And this is why at VAVA we seek to consolidate a project based on the best materials, as we pride ourselves on avoiding mass production. This means that we have an eco-friendly fabrication using high quality, sustainable materials. The frames are made of cellulose acetate from the Italian brand Mazzuchelli. VAVA is using their exclusive “eco-friendly” line M49 (an entirely recyclable material). Another key aspect of our product is the use of glass lenses, a product which is 100% recyclable. VAVA uses BARBERINI lenses exclusively. For many years Barberini has been synonymous with excellence in the glass sun lens segment. Barberini was among the first companies in the field to achieve the UNI EN ISO 14001 Environmental Certification. The hinges of a VAVA product are made from aluminium 6026, a super light material with great physical and mechanical properties. The production waste can be easily melted to make new aluminium; the waste material preserves the same original physical and mechanical properties, which makes it an easy product to recycle.